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Film / Ushpizin

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Ushpizin (Hebrew אושפיזין) (lit. "Sukkot guests", from Aramaic uspizin אושפיזין 'guests') is a 2005 Israeli film directed by Gidi Dar and written by Shuli Rand. It starred Rand, and his wife, Michal, who had never acted before. The movie did well among secular audiences, and proved surprisingly popular among the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities, who do not patronize movie theaters.


The plot centers on Moshe and Mali Bellanga, an impoverished, childless, Hasidic baal teshuva ("returnees to Judaism," basically Ultra-Orthodox Jews who were not raised Ultra-Orthodox) couple in the Breslov community in Jerusalem. After Moshe is passed over for a stipend he expected, they cannot pay their bills, much less prepare for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Moshe admires a particularly beautiful etrog, or citron, one of the four species required for the holiday observance, but cannot even afford a "bargin bin" fruit. They console themselves by recalling a saying of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov that difficult times are a test of faith. After some anguished prayer, they receive an unexpected monetary gift on the eve of the holiday and Moshe buys the etrog for 1000 shekels (approx. $300), a large sum of money that is much more than he can normally afford. Just as the holiday begins, the couple is visited by a pair of escaped convicts, one of whom knew Moshe in his earlier, non-religious life. Following an ancient tradition, Mali and Moshe invite these guests (ushpizin) into the sukkah, creating many conflicts and straining Moshe and Mali's relationship. The situation is further complicated by one of Moshe's friends, whose efforts to help the couple celebrate the holiday can be more trouble than they are worth.


The movie contains examples of:

  • Badass Israeli: Scorpio and Yossef may qualify; Moshe seems to have been in his backstory. As none of these men were raised in a religious community, they would have served in the army and probably carried weapons (M-16s) unless criminal behavior had already disqualified them from armed positions.
  • Big "NO!": Moshe after he discovers what's been done to his thousand-shekel etrog.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Moshe's description of Scorpio's love of lemon is more important than you might think.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Back when Moshe lived in Eilat, he was known for this.
  • His and Hers: Moshe and Mali have separate beds. This is Truth In Cinema; extremely observant Jews do not share a bed for two out of every four weeks in order to maintain ritual purity.
  • Holy City: The movie was filmed in Jerusalem.
  • Housewife: Given a lack of other options, Mali manages to make a meal out a a head of lettuce.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Scorpio and Yossef. Well, maybe not gold. Silver?
  • Ironic Echo: Mali twists Moshe's earlier pledge that the only way for him was with her as she leaves him.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Moshe suspects a sudden run of misfortune is due to an accidental sin he committed.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: The couple wants children for their own sake, but also because having children is an obligation. Mali even suggests that Moshe divorce her and find a more fertile wife.
  • Police are Useless: Not important to the plot, but Eliyahu and his friend have escaped from prison, and there's no sign that the police are lifting a finger to catch them. (Even if they don't seem to have committed any violent crimes.)
  • Product Placement: After the wine is gone, Moshe and Scorpio do shots of arak together. Though not focused on, the bottle's label is distinctive enough for the brand to be recognizable to Israelis.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Eliyahu Scorpio


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